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World Cup bribes, death threats: Corrupt world of FIFA

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Hour after hour in a New York City courtroom, the schemes to corrupt world soccer are spilling out.

The millions of dollars in “inducements” to secure contracts to televise matches. The bribes sought by FIFA executives with the power to determine World Cup hosts. The death threats for cooperating with investigators.

It took the intervention of the U.S. Department of Justice to disrupt years of embezzlement by officials who abused roles in the global soccer governing body, FIFA, to enjoy a gilded lifestyle. Two years after a sprawling investigation of FIFA led to waves of arrests that shook soccer, the trial of three men is underway and about to enter its second week.

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Though the trial in Brooklyn is dealing with corruption allegations before new FIFA leaders emerged in 2016, officials still prominent in soccer are not untouched by the evidence already heard in court – particularly relating to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Here is a look at the talking points from the first week of the trial:

ON TRIAL

The three men on trial pleaded not guilty to charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for prestigious tournaments:

– Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich in May 2015.

– Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Swept up in a second wave of arrests at the same hotel in Zurich in December 2015. As president of South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of reform who could clean up FIFA before being indicted.

– Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president detained along with Napout at the Baur au Lac hotel close to FIFA’s Swiss headquarters.

STAR WITNESS

More than 40 other officials, business executives and entities have been charged. Many have pleaded guilty, hoping to receive reduced sentences, including Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of the Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, who is a star witness for the prosecution.

QATAR WORLD CUP

No decision has proved more toxic for FIFA than the 2010 vote that handed the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The bid has been stained by suspicion of wrongdoing for years, although FIFA has been unable to uncover evidence it says would warrant stripping the Middle East of its first World Cup.

Usually quick to defend their integrity, the Qataris have been silent on the fresh claims of vote-buying divulged in court.

According to Burzaco, three South Americans were among 22 FIFA executive committee voters who took million-dollar bribes to support Qatar, which beat out the United States in the final round of voting in December 2010.

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A rule-breaking voting pact between Qatar and the Spain-Portugal campaign in the 2018 bidding – twice investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee but unproven – was given fresh credence in court by Burzaco, a trusted associate to the late former FIFA senior vice president Julio Grondona, to whom he channeled bribes worth millions.

Grondona was the most influential of South America’s trio of FIFA voters, and would surely have been indicted but for his death in July 2014. The other two voters, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, were indicted by U.S. prosecutors in 2015 but have avoided extradition from their home countries.

Burzaco testified to conversations and incidents with Grondona in 2011, including a confrontation about media reports of bid bribes with Qatari officials at the five-star Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.

An angry Grondona, Burzaco testified, later complained he got into “all these mess and scandal for only” $1.5 million while two others had fooled him and got $75 million. Those two, the court was told, were Teixeira and Sandro Rosell, a former Nike executive and then-president of Spanish club Barcelona who had business ties to Qatar.

FIFA has not directly commented on last week’s courtroom allegations, inevitably waiting for the conclusion of the trial. Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has come under fresh attack in recent weeks by neighboring countries that have severed diplomatic ties with the emirate.

BROADCASTERS’ BRIBES

While the probity of the World Cup vote has been thrust back into the spotlight, much of the evidence so far relates to how officials sprayed illegal cash payments to secure broadcasting rights in the Americas.

Leading broadcasters have been implicated by Burzaco’s evidence about the trail of bribes, including Fox Sports (United States), Televisa (Mexico) and TV Globo (Brazil), which deny wrongdoing.

SLIT-THROAT GESTURE

The most dramatic moment in the opening week of the trial saw Burga accused of threatening Burzaco by making a slashing motion on his neck as the witness testified. Burga claimed he was scratching his throat but still had his bail conditions tightened. Burzaco earlier disclosed he became the target of death threats after it emerged he was cooperating with authorities.

SUICIDE

A former Argentine government official, Jorge Delhon, killed himself hours after the court was told he took millions in bribes in exchange for handing out television rights.

Jorge Delhon, a lawyer who worked in the administration of former Argentina President Cristina Fernandez, dealt with the now-defunct government program Futbol para Todos (Football for All), which broadcast local soccer matches on public TV. Burzaco implicated Delhon in taking bribes.

POLITICAL LINKS

The close ties in South America among lawmakers, judges and soccer leaders are becoming clearer.

In a series of WhatsApp messages detailed in court Wednesday, Napout revealed his links to the current state president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes.

Napout passed on to Burzaco a request from Cartes’ private office to buy eight tickets for Argentina’s game against Iran at the 2014 World Cup. Around that time, Napout also noted CONMEBOL had been in a legal case with a businessman and that Cartes “resolved the entire trial and did it all because of me.”

Cartes also advised Napout to “stay close” to Grondona of Argentina to fulfil his ambition to lead CONMEBOL, the WhatsApp messages revealed.

When Argentina reached the semifinals, Napout asked Burzaco to get four tickets for Paraguay’s attorney general to buy. In a WhatsApp message, Napout tells Burzaco, “we have a trial over there. There are two judges mad because I refused” to get tickets.

CURRENT OFFICIALS

The desire by FIFA to characterize the trial as dealing with officials long banished from world soccer is made harder when officials currently influential in the game are mentioned in court.

FIFA’s current finance committee chairman, Alejandro Dominguez, was referred to during the trial on Wednesday as “not a very successful businessman (who) will probably request” a bribe.

Burzaco, the prosecution’s star witness, said he was told this about Dominguez by Napout in early 2015. Napout is a Paraguayan like Dominguez, and his predecessor as CONMEBOL leader.

Under current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Dominguez is a key ally in Zurich as one of FIFA’s eight vice presidents and was rewarded with being made chairman of the finance panel.

Among many soccer officials whose photographs Burzaco was asked by prosecutors to identify on Tuesday were Sunil Gulati, the most influential American at FIFA, and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Qatari who heads French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and broadcaster beIN Sports. Al-Khelaifi is under criminal investigation in Switzerland for suspected bribery linked to FIFA awarding beIN broadcast rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

The U.S. has not accused Gulati or Al-Khelaifi of any offenses.

EVADING JUSTICE

Several soccer officials indicted in 2015 are absent from court as they fight extradition to the United States:

– Jack Warner (Trinidad and Tobago): Charged in May 2015, four years after quitting as a FIFA vice president to avoid sanctions in the bribery case connected to a presidential election. Later banned for life by FIFA for misconduct during the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding process.

– Marco Polo del Nero (Brazil): Despite being charged with corruption, remains president of the Brazilian federation and met with FIFA’s Infantino during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee after missing meetings and was then indicted in the U.S. in December 2015.

– Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay): President of CONMEBOL from 1986 to 2013, when he resigned for receiving $130,000 in payments from a former FIFA marketing partner. Wanted in the U.S. on charges of receiving millions of dollars in bribes linked to marketing and television contracts, Leoz’s extradition was finally approved by a judge in Paraguay last week just as the FIFA trial was getting underway in Brooklyn.

– Ricardo Teixeira (Brazil): A former son-in-law of Joao Havelange, FIFA’s president in 1974-98, Teixeira quit as Brazilian federation head and a FIFA executive committee member in 2012 as corruption allegations mounted.

Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

Mourinho bemoans ‘very bad’ preseason for Man United

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MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has described the team’s preseason as “very bad” because of the disruption caused by the World Cup and the absence of Alexis Sanchez for the tour of the United States.

Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones will not return to training with United until close to the start of the new season because their countries got to the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia.

Sanchez wasn’t among the United squad heading across the Atlantic because there was an issue with his visa after the Chile forward accepted a 16-month suspended sentence in Spain over a tax issue.

Mourinho said “preseason is very bad, I have to say that,” adding that “I am worried because I am not training with all my players.”

On Sanchez, Mourinho said “he’s very sad, it’s not good for him or me, not good for anyone. There is no one to blame — the club is making an effort. I have to respect the U.S. authorities in their process of selection of visas. I hope he will come to join us.”

Mourinho said he is set to start the season with Sanchez, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial as his strike force.

United flew to Los Angeles on Sunday and will play five games, including three International Champions Cup matches against Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool, during its stay.

United plays its first English Premier League game of the season on Aug. 10 against Leicester at Old Trafford.

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals Wed. night

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The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open is back, with all four quarterfinal matchups set for Wednesday night.

[ MORE: USWNT names veteran team for Tournament of Nations ]

It’s a mixed bag of haves and have-nots from the 2018 MLS regular season still alive in the competition. Current holders Sporting Kansas City are still alive and have been drawn away to the Houston Dynamo (8:30 p.m. ET), in something of a grudge match for Houston after coughing up a 2-0 lead and losing to Sporting KC 3-2 last month.

Los Angeles FC host Portland Timbers (10:30 p.m. ET) in a rematch of Sunday’s league clash at Banc of California Stadium (a 0-0 draw). Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC open the night’s action at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m. ET), followed by Chicago Fire taking on the only remaining lower-division team still in the competition, Louisville City (7:30 p.m. ET).

All games will be streamed live on ussoccer.com, direct links below.

STREAMS

Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City SC — WATCH
Chicago Fire vs. Louisville City — WATCH
Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City — WATCH
Los Angeles FC vs. Portland Timbers — WATCH

Miami City Commission sends Beckham stadium to Nov. ballot

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David Beckham and his business partners, the Mas brothers, are one top closer to securing the stadium deal required to bring an MLS expansion franchise to the city of Miami — maybe, but also maybe not.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba wants Juve move, Grealish to Spurs? ]

The Miami City Commission voted on Wednesday to place a referendum on the November ballot, paving the way for Beckham and Co.’s privately-funded complex on city land currently occupied by a golf course. The final vote tally was 3-2 in favor of sending the issue to ballot. A previous Commission session was conducted, and ended, last week without a final vote taking place as the fifth and final member had yet to make up his mind.

Beckham and partners used the last week, between Commission meetings, to put a full-court press on Miami’s general public, local media and the last remaining member of the Commission.

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The key, and most contentious, part of the proposal is (at least) $35 million worth of toxic waste which must be removed from the site. That number could very easily double or triple once clean-up begins, and Beckham’s group would be on the hook for the total cost.

The proposed stadium would seat roughly 25,000 fans and would be just one part of the 58-acre park which will also include retail, restaurants and hotels.

Sarri hopes to convince Hazard, Courtois in face-to-face meeting

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The coming days and weeks will be immensely tense times for players, coaches, directors and fans of Chelsea alike — but, for no one more so than new Blues boss Maurizio Sarri, who faces the very real prospect of losing arguably his two best players before managing his first game at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba wants Juve move, Grealish to Spurs? ]

Forward Eden Hazard has made it pretty clear he’d prefer a move to his yet-unnamed “preferred destination,” and goalkeeper Thibut Courtois has said he’d like to continue playing with Hazard, either in west London or elsewhere. Sarri hopes he’ll have a chance to persuade the Belgian duo to stay another year, or longer, but he doesn’t plan on doing so until they return from their offseason breaks, at which point he can meet with them face to face — quotes from the Guardian:

“Clearly the players you are referring to are very high-level players and I would like to keep them. But a telephone call without looking them in the eye will not give me any certainty.

“I would like to meet these players face to face and talk to them and understand what the best thing is for everyone to do. Before that I would also like a player to come on the pitch for four or five days with me to have a clear idea of what the plan is.”

Given that the Premier League’s transfer window will close before the upcoming season’s opening weekend (Aug. 9), the period of time during which Hazard and Courtois will be available to meet with Sarri, and the amount of time to reinvest and replenish the squad should they leave, will be an extremely narrow window. After finishing third-place at the 2018 World Cup, they could very easily be away until the final 48 or 72 hours of the window.